Alexander Stefaniak

Alexander Stefaniak

Head of Musicology
Associate Professor of Musicology
PhD, Eastman School of Music
BM, Baldwin-Wallace College
research interests:
  • Nineteenth-century Music
  • Virtuosity
  • Piano Culture
  • Romantic Aesthetics
  • Music Criticism

contact info:

mailing address:

  • Washington University
    CB 1032
    One Brookings Drive
    St. Louis, MO 63130-4899

Professor Stefaniak’s research focuses on piano culture and performance during the nineteenth century. He teaches courses on topics ranging from eighteenth-century opera to the twentieth-century culture of “classical music."

Alexander Stefaniak received his PhD from the Eastman School of Music in 2012 and joined the faculty of Washington University that year. His research explores how virtuoso instrumentalists developed performing and compositional strategies to embody (indeed, to capitalize upon) the aspirations articulated in nineteenth-century writings on musical aesthetics. Stefaniak’s publications have used the activities of Clara and Robert Schumann as windows onto the broader landscape of piano virtuosity, particularly within Austro-German contexts. His first book, Schumann’s Virtuosity, draws upon a wide range of methodologies—from archival research to music analysis—to explore Robert Schumann’s multifaceted critical and compositional engagement with virtuosity. He has recently published articles about Clara Schumann’s engagement with popular pianism, concepts of interiority, and beliefs about interpretation and the musical work.  He is currently at work on a monograph about Clara Schumann’s ascendency as an authoritative performer of canonic repertoire, titled Becoming Clara Schumann: Performing Strategies and Aesthetics in the Culture of the Canonic Tradition. Stefaniak will complete this project as a Faculty Fellow at Washington University’s Center for the Humanities.

Selected Publications


Becoming Clara Schumann: Performing Strategies and Aesthetics in the Culture of the Canonic Tradition. In preparation.   

Schumann’s Virtuosity: Criticism, Composition, and Performance in Nineteenth-Century Germany. Indiana University Press, 2016.

  • Awarded an AMS 75 PAYS subvention
  • See reviews in Nineteenth-Century Music Review (Dec. 2017) and American Music Teacher (June-July 2017)


“Remaking the Canon in their Own Images: Creative Writing Projects in the Music History Classroom.” Journal of Music History Pedagogy 9, no. 2 (2019): 195-214.
“Clara Schumann and the Imagined Revelation of Musical Works.” Music & Letters 99, no. 2 (2018).
“Clara Schumann’s Interiorities and the Cutting Edge of Popular Pianism.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 70, no. 3 (2017).
Review of Nigel Cliff, Moscow Nights: The Van Cliburn Story. In The Common Reader (2017).
“Robert Schumann, Serious Virtuosity, and the Rhetoric of the Sublime.” Journal of Musicology 33, no. 4 (2016).


Selected Courses


Beethoven in His Time and Ours
Mozart: Humor, Science, Politics, Music (Cross-listed with Comparative Literature)
Music History II: The Invention of Classical Music (Writing Intensive Course)
Romantic Revolutions in European Music and Culture (Cross-listed with Comparative Literature)


Music in the Romantic Period
Introduction to Musicological Research
Virtuosity Studies

Schumann’s Virtuosity: Criticism, Composition, and Performance in Nineteenth Century Germany

Schumann’s Virtuosity: Criticism, Composition, and Performance in Nineteenth Century Germany

Considered one of the greatest composers—and music critics—of the Romantic era, Robert Schumann (1818–1856) played an important role in shaping nineteenth-century German ideas about virtuosity. Forging his career in the decades that saw abundant public fascination with the feats and creations of virtuosos (Liszt, Paganini, and Chopin among others), Schumann engaged with instrumental virtuosity through not only his compositions and performances but also his music reviews and writings about his contemporaries. Ultimately, the discourse of virtuosity influenced the culture of Western “art music” well beyond the nineteenth century and into the present day. By examining previously unexplored archival sources, Alexander Stefaniak looks at the diverse approaches to virtuosity Schumann developed over the course of his career, revealing several distinct currents in nineteenth-century German virtuosity and the enduring flexibility of virtuosity discourse.